Poetry Spring 2021

Self-Portrait as Sticky Notes

After Safia Elhillo

Today I write down the last thing my mother and I both laughed at & I write down
my partner’s birthday and all of his names & I write down how many days since the last
attempt & I write down the title of every poem that has ever held me in its arms and
told me I’ll make it & these days I feel so paper-thin, so parchment and puzzle & when 
I forget the good things I just look at myself in the mirror and read them again & again
& again 
Poetry Spring 2021


Two little white parakeets evacuate from my sister’s fingers
and in their agitation they fly into the walls 
they are persistent little things — 
persistent in the flapping and their panic even after going splat 
and they search, frantically, for the loftiest, most remote corner of our living room 

Like the uneasy dance of a flame Kimberly’s eyes keep up with the parakeets, 
but her body is still 
she points her stony chin to them and waits 
and the little white parakeets keep searching for holes in the ceiling 
and she waits, watching still, with locked knees and dancing eyes and a stony chin

The little white parakeets have tiny little wooden feet
And after a while their feet search for something solid
One parakeet rests, 
The other follows, 
And something firm and silvery flashes in Kimberly’s hand 

A little bird’s head pops out from a space between her fingers
she extends its wing and it is tense
and in her other hand she extends the arms of a barber’s scissor 

I watch her barber’s scissor glide through flight feathers
The feathers disintegrate —
They fall to the floor like dust from a window sill —
and the bird is still

When they escape her hand the little white parakeets resume their flapping, 
they see the lofty corners but the keep fucking falling 
and after a while their eyes search desperately for holes in the floor 
Featured Poetry Spring 2021



 “Some are transformed just once
 And live their whole lives after in that shape.
 Others have a facility
 For changing themselves as they please.”

 They talk about mothers turning into stones,
 hunters turning into stags but rarely speak
 of individuals changing within themselves;
 just souls inhabiting different bodies.

 So tell me, what is a myth?


 When I was a toddler, tucked into bed and refusing
 to give in to slumber, my mother would instruct
 me to pick two objects with which she’d create
 a story from scratch. The curtain and the clock.

 The pillow and the dresser. Lacking
 creativity, I would recycle my choices
 based on what was currently in view;
 there is only so much one can see

 from a supine position in a bedroom.
 Still, my mother would lie beside me
 and bring these objects to life, giving voice
 to the curtains who wished the clock would halt

 his noisy ticking, the dresser who existed 
 in eternal envy of the pillow that had frequent
 interaction with me. The tales awakened
 rather than sedated me.

 Is that a myth — making the inanimate animate?


 A body can turn into another body
 without external transformation —
 I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it when I went from feeding
 myself one year to needing help the next —

 on the outside everything looked the same.
 I’ve seen it when I went from one day sitting
 unsupported to the next day needing a chest strap
 to keep me from falling forward, constantly —

 still my body looked the same. And I’ve seen it
 when my best friend went from helping me
 one minute to being awarded for it the next —
 this is the moment I was perhaps most transformed,

 when the difference between others and me,
 that veil they speak of, revealed itself
 for the first time — my body was exactly, exactly
 the same. I remain in that shape, even now.


 And when at elementary school we began
 to create drama, snickering at boys and whispering
 about crushes, it was not long before I could name
 for each of my friends at least one if not two boys

 who were in love with them. Joey brought Hannah
 a stingray stuffed animal on Valentine’s day
 (stingrays were Hannah’s favorite). Steven professed
 his undying love for Hayley right in front of my eyes.

 Then one day, while brushing my hair,
 my mother told me someone had a crush on me.
 My best friend Lauren had said so to her mom.
 But why hadn’t Lauren told me herself?

 At age seven I was more saddened by the idea
 that my mother felt the need to mythologize
 a figure who fancied me than by the thought
 of lacking a secret admirer altogether.

 Is that a myth — a claim that may never be verified?


 Actaeon stumbles upon the naked Diana
 then finds himself not man but stag.
 Where can we place the blame? On the hunter who took
 aimless steps through the woods? On the goddess,

 defending herself in a world full of rape and terror?
 Is this what defines a myth —
 when a character is transformed
 as a punishment for something beyond their own control?

 If these things are so, perhaps my body
 is a transformation myth. The way it carries my soul,
 making the inanimate animate. The way it is at once
 changed and ever-changing, determined by the neurons

 that survive within it (a kind of punishment, it feels,
 on some days). The way I will never
 truly know why, oh why, it was made this way,
 or whether it even exists: such a thing as a disabled body.

 Opening quote from Ted Hughes’s Tales from Ovid
Poetry Winter 2021

Dear Gypsum, this is a love letter

because tonight it rained for the first time in a month.
Just for a few minutes, it never stays long, but
afterwards the brand new baby leaves on our 
front yard aspens glittered like polished emeralds
pulled from a late summer afternoon. The birds got louder,
maybe to sing of rain-rebirth 
or perhaps the new crop of worms,
or maybe the world just stopped for a second 
to listen. 

In Gypsum, rain is a gift. 
The Ute people call the town 
the hole in the sky because bad weather 
always seems to skirt right around it.
I think Gypsum got missed by other things, too,
the future drove right past on I-70 
without looking to the right.
It’s easy, I know, but if you glance 
out the passenger window and the sun is just right
you’ll see green, emerald green, aspen green, 
green, green, green,
all the way up the dirt road valley to the top of Red Hill.
Gypsum is painted into colors and the 
world whips by at 60 miles an hour. 

Up in the hills above the highway there are the gypsum mines. 
I’m shit at geology but I could pick some gypsum 
out of a hat blindfolded if I had to,
soft, flaky,
barely even a rock. 
The breakfast table in my old house had
a telescope view of the mine roads and I’d watch
the trucks collect dust over my soggy oatmeal. In third grade 
we went to the factory for a field trip.
We walked there from the school. They gave us 
a piece of drywall and promised 
that their polluting smokestacks were only steam, like 
cloud memories of the mines. 

Gypsum is not a water town, but 
a creek has snuck its way into the wrinkles
of our lives. Softly, like a gentle reminder 
that we are not all rock. 
It feels like an afterthought compared
to the respect commanded by the Colorado
just a few miles away, but in the spring 
rainbow trout spawn and melted snow 
rushes over river rocks smoothed by 
seasons and time and the sunset’s reflection 
dances through the neighborhood. 

In Gypsum, all roads lead to dirt. Fifteen minutes out
and you’ll forget about the mines and the 
cookie-cutter houses painted puke green and the air 
will tug on your lungs
like wildflowers on the wind 
and the scent of sage burns in your memory 
and all you can see is 
rock and dirt and life and death and somewhere,
a car is passing the exit 
and a fish is stuck in the stream 
and the birds are singing and wondering 
if it will rain
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

Oregon Muslim

One day in this life, insha’Allah,
I want to leave the train in Marrakech 
or Istanbul and listen to the adhan 
as it soars from morning minarets.
I want to sleep with the city in the day
when the shops are shut on Ramadan time
and wake with her when the night begins
to shake hands and sing — to pray for peace
and give thanks for three sips of water
and a date.

I want to kneel 
shoulder to shoulder with sibling strangers 
and put my forehead to the masjid floor,
grateful for a chance to be better
and a path to walk on my journey home.
I will give salaams to the people in the street,
to the pilgrims and porch cats
sitting below windowsill flowers. 

Until then, alhamdulillah,
I will be here 
at the other end of this world
with my hands in the rain-blessed soil 
of this garden mosque, 
content to praise Allah by watching
the snow peas spiral towards
the top of the fence post,
or heaven. 
Poetry Winter 2021


I want to live with you
in Indianapolis 

I’d like to work normal hours and shop for groceries 
and maybe go bowling 

And maybe we would go on a hike sometime
or maybe we wouldn’t 
And maybe we’d have sex
but we don’t have to 
And we can have friends 
but we don’t need them 
And we can talk about big things 
or we can talk about small things 
Like the weather
or who is running for mayor 
or that the Walmart just moved our favorite yogurt to a different aisle 
And we could read mystery books and watch Wheel of Fortune
And it would be nice 
but it doesn’t need to be 
So long as I get to be with you 
in Indianapolis 
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

to grow old

Life is a short thing, the flies that
          buzz around my room will 
stop their droning gaggle in a day
          a day or two, anyway.

The large gourd-shaped hulk who
          bellows beneath the depths has
over 200 years, that lucky thing and
          when my son tugs at my 

pant leg, and asks me why my
           hair starts to look like the
feeling of a key ring, silver and
          weighed down by things,
I read him a book about whales and
          hope that he will not ask
how many whale lives I have left
          but how many fly lives I have.

Life is a long thing, when starfish
          lose limbs, it’s usually just
because they’re a little warm, it’s
          their small discarded sweater

but when I get a little warm at night, 
          my body shoved by invisible
currents, I sit in the cavity of the couch
          eyes falling like stars from

when I used to stay up all night and it was
          an act of joy, instead of a lonely,
slow-moving river that just pushes me
          towards when that orange strobe

rises above the water line, when my eyes
          clench from its brilliance and the bones
in my body have not fallen off like the starfish,
          they have never felt so weighted.

Life is a short thing, because the
          macaroni penguins, they mate
for life, and my son and I were watching 
          discovery channel discuss Antarctica,

a place that feels like running out of time,
          at the end of the world, something
like me, and he turned to me and said that he wished 
          I were a penguin so I didn’t have to be 

alone. I said I’m not alone, I have you.
          And he smiled the same smile from when
he visited his first zoo and said “I have 
          you too” and the narrator talked on.
Poetry Winter 2021

This One Ends with a Paperweight

A goldfinch caught 
in the light 
sits on the faucet 
in my kitchen, 
there are splinters 
in the yard where 
his birdhouse used to be. 
A door behind me opens. 
My son in the hallway 
holds a paperweight. 
His face turns fiendish, 
his arm cocks —
The bird opens 
like a music box, 
revealing the shades 
of his insides.
Featured Poetry Winter 2021

A Summer Love Story

Five weeks after we met
          two weeks after we'd been living
together, in heaving heat, he walked me to the train station.
We saw the Acropolis along the way, the ruin cliffed
in high sky. He carried my backpack, my five weeks humped
behind his shoulders. At a crossroad he peeled
his hand from mine and gave me

a paper bag — What is this, I’d asked, and he said, as if he would
every day for many years, for when you get hungry.
          Honey sandwich and apple. We passed
narrow train tracks, where trains sometimes came, ducked
station turnstiles that have not worked in months. We sat in silence

           and when my train came,
air splattered against me like paint. We turned to each other, he pressed
my head into his wet chest, my heart between his stomach and his hand.
          I think I’ve said all I want to say, he said and

          into his chest I told him, he who had said he did not love me,
          I love you

 through the window I saw him, standing,
the train moved, I went back
to not knowing him, what we grew

          mile by mile. 
Poetry Winter 2021

when you dreamt you nearly drowned me

i tried installing a shower drain
in my sternum
i texted like 10 surgeons
each had some version of

nastiness will stick down there
not just lotions in gummed up hair
but ash and crumbs and smells too

the fumes of jealousy will stain
like wine and stripe the bones
if any bleach in rage hits
ammonia in fear youll be done

then theres all the little things
belly marbles of contempt
ulcers of unread emails
tonsil stones of regret

might swallow too-small clothes
that slip past the solar plexus
where they’ll rot so bad
you can’t forgive your parents
youll need more pills one doctor said
to block all nightmares at the neck
youll want to cast your clavicle
in false praise and cement

he sent the scripts and that emoji
w/ a zipper for a smile
from another just screenshots of gauze
1. stuff down your esophagus
2. call ambulance for side effects

i was recommended apple sauce
i was referred to a psychiatrist
i bought extensions for my spinal cord
but got all tangled in the wires

im stuck i decided
ive got water on the tongue
so i wrote im out of office
packed a stethoscope and drove

until i reached the thin horizon
where in a haze of eucalyptus
with the metal to my diaphram
unanesthetized and mirrorless

i held a needle to my center
and my breath so i could listen
past years of rust and mold
i tore my own drain open